Notes: Moreno rises; Merryweather setback

August 20th, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have a new No. 1 prospect in catcher Gabriel Moreno, one of the breakout stars of 2021 in the Minor Leagues who’s jumped all the way to the No. 34 prospect in baseball.

Moreno leads a group of four Blue Jays prospects represented on the new Top 100 list, including Nate Pearson (No. 44), Orelvis Martinez (48) and Jordan Groshans (61). There's been a major shakeup atop the Blue Jays' list after former No. 2 prospect Austin Martin and No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson were dealt to the Twins for José Berríos at the Trade Deadline. This also ends Pearson's long reign as the club's top prospect.

Already one of the organization’s most-hyped prospects coming into the season, Moreno still managed to exceed all expectations with his start at Double-A. The 21-year-old hadn’t even played the position when the Blue Jays signed him out of Venezuela at 16, but a scout asked him to make a few throws from behind the plate and five years later, here he is.

Moreno appeared in just 32 games in Double-A prior to fracturing a thumb on a hit by pitch, but was hitting .373 with eight home runs and a 1.092 OPS over that span. The Blue Jays had also given him a start at third base just prior to the injury, another interesting wrinkle to keep in mind for the athletic young catcher when he returns. Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire are currently handling catching duties at the MLB level with Danny Jansen on the IL, but Moreno has the potential to be the clear catcher of the future in Toronto.

Pearson’s fall to the club’s No. 2 prospect comes during another injury-delayed season, though he’s currently working his way back for a bullpen role late in the season. Martinez, still just 19, has challenged Moreno for the most productive season in the system, launching 19 home runs with a .942 OPS over 85 games between Low-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver in 2021. Groshans, the Blue Jays’ first-rounder from 2018, is hitting .286 with six home runs and an .814 OPS over 66 games at Double-A.

That group of four Top 100 prospects leads us to the Blue Jays’ new No. 5 prospect, Gunnar Hoglund. The No. 19 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Hoglund underwent Tommy John surgery in May and is expected to return at some point in 2022. Right-hander Irv Carter, picked in the fifth round out of high school, comes in at No. 16 on the new Top 30 list and is followed at No. 17 by Ricky Tiedemann, Toronto’s third-round pick.

One of the biggest jumps with the latest update belongs to infielder Kevin Smith (No. 10), who made his first MLB start on Friday against the Tigers. Smith broke out as a prospect in 2018 but struggled in '19, so he’s done well to fully rebound after the lost Minor League season and was off to a terrific start in Triple-A Buffalo, where he was hitting .286 with 19 home runs and a .947 OPS over 82 games.

Merryweather suffers another setback in recovery

The 4 1/3 innings threw at the start of the season continue to be a tease of what could have been. The right-hander touched 100 mph and looked like the Blue Jays’ answer at closer. But a left oblique strain landed him on the IL in April, and he suffered yet another setback recently while rehabbing, according to manager Charlie Montoyo.

Merryweather threw one inning with Dunedin on Wednesday, but came out of that with “soreness,” the club said, and his next outing will be pushed back. It’s a disappointing setback for Merryweather, who’s always dealt with injuries, and any contribution from him down the stretch would be viewed as a bonus at this point.

More on Pearson’s return

Pearson made another rehab appearance at Triple-A on Thursday, needing just eight pitches to work through a clean inning with a strikeout. Montoyo said that Pearson came out of that appearance feeling good and is scheduled to throw again on Sunday, after which the Blue Jays will evaluate their next steps.

In a perfect world, both Merryweather and Pearson ride into town throwing 100 mph to save the bullpen. Just getting Pearson would still be a major addition, though, especially if he can recapture any of the form he showed in the 2020 American League Wild Card game against the Rays, throwing two innings with five strikeouts. Pearson still needs to prove this consistently at the MLB level, but the talent is clearly there.